Here we go again, it’s the school holidays - for our school anyway - which means of course that we are away in Patsy. Although this time we are not exploring some far flung corner of the UK but have finally made it across the English Channel, for as I type we are sited on a pretty little campsite in the village of Tournieres in Normandy. Yes, France!
We’ve been here since Sunday morning, and have done very little but relax so far. There’s plenty of time to get out and about as we’re in France for over 7 weeks - so yes, I’m afraid that’s lots of blogs you’re going to be bombarded with.
I’m going to wind back to the Friday before last. As many know we work for a private school as minibus drivers and having dropped the kids off I was ambling back to the school in a hot, sweaty and slightly smelly minibus contemplating not only our upcoming trip but the more immediate prospect of a few beers with colleagues to celebrate the end of term.
Then the phone rang.
A large group of kids - having completed their GCSE’s were heading to the Peak District on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. We would be involved in the coming week to bring them back but the majority were going up on a coach. Only it hadn’t turned up - or more likely someone hadn’t booked it. Two extra drivers were needed and could myself and Trev help out?
Well, sitting in aforementioned hot, sweaty & smelly minibus I fancied it about as much as an STD, but we eventually agreed and found ourselves a short while later setting off from the college in Brighton as part of a convoy of five minibuses full of kids and two vans full of camping kit.
Four hours later we’d managed to cover nearly 80, yes 80 miles thanks to Friday afternoon traffic, accidents and breakdowns and by the time we arrived in the Peak District at midnight - some nine hours later we were all feeling pretty ragged. Credit to the kids though, they were good as gold and extremely well behaved.
We COULD have stayed over in the bunkhouse, but luckily we didn’t have to bring all the buses back so could share the driving on the way home. We eventually turned the key to the door of our flat at 0545 - some 24 hours after I’d gotten up the previous day.
We were to repeat the journey on Monday and Wednesday, suffering yet more delays thanks to accidents and road closures, but were buoyed by the knowledge that the overtime would fund a considerable portion of our upcoming trip.
So, Saturday night saw us at the ferry port of Newhaven just six miles up the road from us. The plan was to travel from the Caravan Club site in Brighton were Patsy had been since Thursday - to prep and load up - but someone - ok me - forgot to book early enough and there was no room on Saturday so her ladyship had to go back to storage for the day.
The port was busier than usual - due no doubt to the carry on at Calais and by the time it came to board the queue stretched almost out onto the road. Boarding seemed slow but we were away on time at 1130. With the lights from the new quayside flats reflecting on the water Newhaven looked almost pretty. Not a description that’s often applied to it I can assure you, in fact it’s often said that the best and only thing to do in Newhaven when you arrive is leave. Yes, it has seen better days, but there are signs of regeneration. A massive wind farm has been given the go ahead off the coast and Newhaven is central to construction and on-going operations.
We had actually done this crossing before - many many years ago - on a day’s booze buying trip. It seemed though our plans were doomed from the start because we didn’t realise that nothing would be open on a Sunday. Doh. Unperturbed we had a look around then headed back to the port planning to stock up from the ships duty free only to find that they’d gone on strike and our ferry was now anchored out in the harbour.
Word got around that we could head up the coast to Calais and another operator would accept our tickets. We eventually arrived back in the UK via Dover and got back to our hotel in Eastbourne in the early hours.
Anyway, back to the present. Sleep was pretty high up on the list of requirements but we needed feeding and watering too. Having had a look at the restaurant we adjourned to the bar and ordered a couple of pints and baguettes. Considering previous experience of eating on ferries - most memorably across to Ireland and back last year - I was expecting a painfully expensive experience. But as I went to pay I noticed the ‘meal deal’ poster offering a pint and a baguette for a fiver. Wow, what a bargain and well done to DFDS for being sensible. Irish Ferries and P & O take note. In fact the ship - the Seven Sisters - was clean and tidy throughout and well laid out with plenty of room too.
We had eschewed the chance of a cabin of a cabin (for a fee) but instead found some large reclining chairs and managed to grab some sleep. In fact it didn’t seem long before they were announcing our imminent arrival in Dieppe. We headed to the car and set the sat-nav app on my phone for our destination. I’d had a look at the map and the route was pretty easy if we took the toll roads but our sense of adventure and natural aversion to parting with cash ensured I selected the ‘avoid tolls’ option.
It worked pretty well too. We saw more of the countryside and the roads were completely empty at that hour. Trev drove until around 8am taking around three quarters of the way, then I took over. I was not relishing it to be honest - I hadn’t driven abroad for years, and had never towed on the ‘wrong side’ but it was surprisingly easy. Probably the hardest thing was putting complete faith in the sat-nav - but I needn't have worried. For the record the app is HERE Drive running on Windows Phone and it’s best feature for me is the ability to download maps so you don’t need to rely on a signal and don’t chew through your data allowance.
Some 4 hours and 150 miles later we had arrived at our chosen site. True to form , it was raining and had been for a while. We checked in, picked a pitch then went to site the van. There was plenty of room to get her ladyship in position with the car but to level her up we were going to use the motor mover, only to discover that the battery was completely flat. Christ! We got her in position, got the legs down, the electric on, then dived inside out of the wet for a kip.
Later in the afternoon, the weather and our mood had improved. We finished setting up, utilising for the first time our new canopy that’s replaced our pump up awning. Wielding a multimeter and following some instructions from a fellow caravanner on Twitter (Thank you again Daniel) I set about identifying the problem of our flat battery. We’d recently had the wiring on car and van changed to the more modern single 13 pin from the two older 7-pin plugs. Tests revealed everything was fine on the car end but we were to discover later that a couple of wires had come off in the new caravan plug - and the rest were loose too. Good old British workmanship. We fixed it up as best we could and I’ll get it done properly when we get home.
Dinner was taken in the site restaurant overlooking the pool area. Reasonably priced and tasty - with an accompanying vino too. Here we got to meet Paul, the owner who established the site 25 years ago. A merchant seaman out of Portsmouth he wanted to relocate to France and having never caravanned borrowed and friends and toured the country looking for somewhere to buy. Friends asked if they could store their caravan on his land and the idea of a commercial caravan storage facility was born. The caravan site came as a natural progression, first as a basic CL type site but eventually with all the modern facilities we come to expect. It’s mature now and very pretty with low hedges separating the pitches and giving some privacy with being too enclosed.
Right, that’s it for now. Not much in the way of photo’s as we haven’t been out and about yet, but here are some pictures of the site:
We’ve been experimenting with video too and there are six available for your perusal:
Please let me know what you think. It’s early days but if you like them we’ll do more.